Bruce Plante stood a long while with his left foot on Hermantown’s bench, left hand on left knee and disbelief on his mind.
A record sixth consecutive Class 1A championship game appearance ended with another loss, this one in overtime after battling back to tie the game with two goals in the final 33 seconds of regulation. Summoned to the postgame award ceremony, Plante endured another slow walk past another group of dejected players for another red ribbon.
Asked to rank this defeat with its five predecessors, Plante said: “They’re all tough, man. People were getting on us about losing the second one, but it’s been four since then.”
An incredulous laugh punctuated his assessment.
Eveleth reached five consecutive championship games from 1948-52 and won four. International Falls accomplished the same from 1962 to ’66. Hermantown won a state title in 2007, success overshadowed by the losing streak.
“I just don’t get it,” Plante said. “It’s weird to me. The hockey gods didn’t work in our favor again. They are no better than we are. We played well.”
Heartbreak wears many different jerseys. In 2010, Hermantown’s troubles started with a 2-1 loss on bad bounce for a late Breck goal. One year later, Hermantown blew a 3-0 lead in a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Thomas Academy. The Cadets sunk the Hawks again in 2013, rallying from a 4-2 deficit to win 5-4 with seven seconds remaining.
Senior Nate Pionk said those moments were far from players’ minds.
“Coming into the game you’re not trying to think about last year,” Pionk said. “That’s last year. Whole new season, whole new team. We’re trying to win the state championship, not think about losing one again.”
This year seemed different. No private schools with “three first lines” to draw Plante’s scorn. A loose, fun team using a pink Minnie Mouse bike helmet as the game MVP award. A 3-0 shutout of title game opponent East Grand Forks earlier this season. None of it mattered.
“The ones in the locker room bawling their eyes out will come out next year and will play their hearts out to try to accomplish doing it again,” Plante said. “What else can you do? You can’t not come here.”